Chapter 6: Applied Research
Rainbow Dash awoke from her nap to find Scootaloo knocking at her door.
"Oh hey, kiddo, what's up?"
"Hi Dash, umm... " the filly said, her front hooves nervously stepping in place. "Would you, you know... umm... be up for a race?"
Dash looked at the smiling little pegasus. "You figured something out, didn't you?"
Scootaloo laughed nervously. "Yeah, kinda."
"How, 'kinda' are we talking about here?"
"Like... a lotta kinda?"
Rainbow chuckled. "Okay, sure thing, squirt. Just gimme a minute to get ready."
"Yeah, sure thing, Dash."
Rainbow invited the filly inside while she went to quickly wash up. She'd known this day was coming ever since that crazy race they'd had a few months prior. She'd been flying with Scootaloo a fair bit in the interim, but they'd had no further races or any attempts at true speed. Mostly, it'd been hanging out as sisters—which is all Dash really wanted anyway—but she suspected the youngster had been practicing elsewhere on her own to prepare. Dash had also talked to Twilight, who'd reported that Scootaloo was really quite a prodigy when it came to physics and the related stuff, though apparently her grades in other subjects were only just above passing. Dash had promised Twilight that she'd try to talk the filly into paying at least a little attention to other studies at some point. For now though, that could wait.
After a quick shower to wake herself up, Rainbow returned to the main room and an overly eager filly. "Ready to go?" Scootaloo said.
"Patience there, squirt. I need a snack."
With that, Rainbow headed to the kitchen and poured a bowl of cereal. Slowly munching on it while Scootaloo watched, she wondered just what the filly might have discovered to get her so excited. Oh, she knew Scootaloo probably figured out how to get through the sonic barrier, but Dash suspected the filly hadn't stopped there.
"Ready to go yet?" Scootaloo said as Rainbow placed the last bite in her mouth.
"Almost. Just gotta drink some water first. Hydration is important, you know."
Scootaloo just stared as Rainbow slowly sipped a glass of water. When it was finally empty, the filly piped up. "How about now? Can we go yet?"
Rainbow tussled Scootaloo's mane with one hoof while she set the glass in the sink. "Yeah, let's step outside."
As Rainbow casually walked toward the door, Scootaloo rushed past her and was already hovering outside when the older pegasus exited the house.
"Okay, so I'm thinking straight from here to the peak of Canterlot Mountain!" the filly said.
"Hang on there, just gotta stretch first," Dash said, as she slowly began to extend and flex one wing, then the other.
"Ugh," Scootaloo said, dropping down to sit on the cloud while Dash continued her regimen. After a few minutes, as she saw Dash start to repeat the same stretches for a third time, she couldn't take it any longer. "Come on Dash, why are you stalling like this?"
Rainbow smiled. "What? Can't a mare enjoy her last few minutes as the world's fastest flier?"
Scootaloo's face went blank at that. She kept forgetting that, in pursuing her own dream, she was, effectively, stealing it from her big sister. And while Rainbow had assured her repeatedly that it was the way things should be, and that she didn't mind, Scootaloo knew that deep down it had to hurt her. "I'm sorry, Dash," she said. "We can... we can do this some other day if you want."
"No, it's fine," Rainbow said, finishing her stretches. "If you say you're ready today, then today it is."
"Are you sure? I mean, I know how important it is to you..."
"Come here, squirt," Dash said, pulling the filly in close with a wing. "Yeah, okay. Being fast is important to me. A few years ago, it was themost important thing to me, even. But since then, I've found so many things that are better."
"Like what?" Scootaloo said, looking up from beneath Dash's wing.
"Well, loyalty, for one. Standing by my friends, helping them where I can. And those friends taught me so much more, too. How important it is to be kind, and care for other ponies, even ones you don't like. To always be generous, and never put yourself first. To be honest, and faithful to your word. To smile, and more importantly, to help others be happy. And of course, that books actually are pretty cool." Dash's tone took on a lighter note as she continued. "And that's just the sappy stuff! Never mind how important it is to protect Equestria from all the bad guys that keep popping up, or taking care of Tank, or out-pranking Pinkie."
Scootaloo giggled at that.
"And of course," Dash continued. "There's helping my little sister learn to fly."
"Aww, Dash..." Scootaloo said, realizing it was getting sappy again.
"I'm serious, Scoots. I've said it before and I'll say it again. You are important to me. Way more important than being the fastest flier. So yeah, if you beat me today, I'll be happy for you, really. You just gotta promise me one thing."
"Yeah," Scootaloo said, remembering. "I won't forget to mention you when I get awards."
"Heh, no, not that," Rainbow said, smiling. "What I'm trying to say is that you can be proud of being fast. It can be important to you. But don't let it be the most important thing. Once you're the fastest flier in Equestria, promise me you won't let it become more important than all that stuff I mentioned—even if it is sappy—okay?"
"I promise, Dash," Scootaloo said, and began making the motions. "Cross my heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye."
"All right then," Dash said, letting a large, determined grin spread across her face. "Let's race!"
The two leapt into the air.
The race started off as a fairly dead heat between the two pegasi. Scootaloo had been practicing a lot, and had honed her subsonic streamlining quite well. Dash, determined to give the race her all from the get go, slowly gained a lead after a couple of minutes of solid effort. Streaking toward Canterlot, both racers kept their speed a bit shy of the sonic barrier... at least at first. Rainbow knew from experience that once you started pushing close to those speeds, it took a lot more energy, and it usually was best to save a final burst for the end of the race.
In a normal race, she'd probably wait until the last third of it to go into the trans-sonic range and beyond. Of course, in a normal race, therewas no race beyond the barrier, as no other pony could keep up once she went there. Of course, this wasn't a normal race, and she had every suspicion the filly she was up against had no intention of pacing herself. As Scootaloo caught up with her a moment later, Dash knew the real race was about to begin.
Scootaloo moved first, deciding she was close enough to the barrier to transition to supersonic. In her studies and trial runs, she'd finally discovered the compressibility that created the shockwaves and unstable airflow at supersonic speeds. She'd gone through scores and scores of theories about how to get around or through the effects, and spent dozens of trials testing them out. Each trial almost always ended with her so exhausted she could barely glide back to the ground afterwards, but after months of testing, she'd finally found a theory that seemed to match the test results. From that theory, she'd worked out a mathematical model that suggested an ideal shape for avoiding the supersonic shockwaves. It was a nearly impossible shape compared to a pegasus, or indeed, anything with actual wings. However, that meant nothing when she could simply use magic to force the airflow around her to follow that same pattern, even without a physical object present to define it.
As she began to reshape the airflow, Scootaloo saw Rainbow Dash take the lead. That was okay though, she'd expected that to happen. The shape she needed for supersonic flight was basically a very elongated hoofball—points at both ends, curving in a mathematically precise way to a wider center. In that center is where her own body would fit, hooves stretched out fore and aft as far as she could get them, and wings held as tightly as possible against her flanks. The smaller the space she could occupy physically, the narrower the overall volume could be, and the faster she could go... in theory. The downside was that such a shape was less than ideal for flight at subsonic speeds, meaning that she couldn't use it for the whole race. As such, she now had to switch from her more contoured and pony-shaped bubble of airflow to the supersonic cigar. That transition period had meant a temporary loss of speed, and allowed Dash to pass her.
Transition complete, Scootaloo put all the magical energy she could into building two small, extremely intense zones of high pressure directly behind each rear hoof, using these as her sole source of acceleration. Her knees quickly began to ache under the high forces she was applying. Thankfully, she'd spent a lot of time upright on her scooter, so she was more used to having weight on her legs at that angle than most ponies. The high acceleration did its job though, and, looking ahead, she saw she was rapidly closing on Dash.
Rainbow Dash was giving it her all. She'd been honest when she told Scootaloo that she couldn't tolerate the idea of not trying her hardest in their previous race. To that end, she'd actually been working out more often than usual in the months since, knowing that when the day came, she'd want to really be able to know that she gave it everything she could. In that sense, it had worked. She found that she was now pushing against the sonic barrier and getting there had taken much less of her energy than she was used to. The hard part was what she was working on now though, that last push to break though.
As she strained and reached for every extra morsel of speed, Dash saw her opponent come into view out of the corner of her eye. She risked a very, very quick glance to the side, and noticed that there was almost no visible vapor cone forming in front of Scootaloo, while in front of her own hooves, there was practically an entire wall of white condensation. As she continued her own push, Dash saw the filly slip further and further into the lead, now obviously past the barrier but without any sort of rainboom or shockwave to indicate that she'd done so. Rainbow Dash really, really wanted to know how the young pegasus had done it, but realized she could dwell on that later. For now, she decided to resort to her old standby, and simply started to try harder.
Scootaloo was pretty sure she was entirely supersonic now, as she'd passed Dash at a decent clip, and there'd been a very clear cone in front of her opponent at the time. That meant her design had worked. The long airflow she'd contrived had punched through the barrier with only the slightest ripples of condensation showing out at the far tip. In that way, it felt much less like the barrier she'd confronted before, and more like she was in a needle, easily passing through a sheet of fabric. Strangely, it was like Dash had said, it actually got easier on the other side. Of course, her calculations had suggested the same thing, but to actually feel the effort lessen was a much more visceral experience than just seeing the numbers. There was a race to win though, and... well, those same numbers said she could go a lot faster still, especially if she went higher. With that in mind, she redoubled her efforts at thrust, and aimed high into the blue.
Behind the soaring filly, Rainbow Dash punched through the barrier herself. Relieved to be on the other side, and to once again see clearly in front of her now that the condensation cone was gone, she put on her own burst of speed, hoping to perhaps catch Scootaloo still. When she looked ahead to locate her though, she couldn't see the filly anywhere between her and the castle-bearing mountain ahead. For a brief second, she was worried the young pegasus might've been knocked out of the sky again, but quickly realized that couldn't have happened. For one, the filly was well ahead of her at last glance, and secondly, ahead of the barrier as well. That meant she was supersonic and well clear of any effects Dash's trailing rainboom might've had.
Turning her thoughts back toward the race, Dash could only try harder, pouring all her remaining energy into gaining even more speed. She'd never held supersonic flight for this long before. Normally, the rainboom was the goal, and once she'd achieved it, the supersonic glide afterwards was usually just to bleed off speed, and maybe do a little showboating, since any race had already been won. Of course, that was before there'd been another pegasus that could even keep up, much less keep a race going well into the supersonic. Now, she found she was apparently far enough behind that she couldn't even see her opponent.
Scootaloo was still accelerating, pleased to find that her theory about going higher was starting to pan out. As the ambient air pressure decreased, so did the drag. It was becoming hard to keep track of her true speed though, only her pegasus magic allowed her to accurately sense the airspeed. To all her other senses, it felt like she was going impossibly slow. With the lowering air pressures, the noise and wind from the slight turbulence had lessened, contributing to a feeling of sluggishness. High above the clouds by now, there was nothing nearby to provide a visual sense of speed. Likewise, the high angle she was flying at meant that she mostly saw unchanging sky, but even when she glanced downward, the ground was so far away that it seemed to barely move beneath her.
As she flew higher and faster, Scootaloo saw that the sky was beginning to change after all. Slowly at first, then faster, she watched it fade from blue into black. The beauty of it was overwhelming, the air itself thinning out and lending everything a sharper, crisper definition. The sunlight too was changing, the soft yellow warmth every pony was familiar with on the ground becoming a clear, brilliantly actinic spotlight up here in the heavens, glinting off faraway lakes, rivers, and glaciers. Long shadows flowed through distant cloud tops on the curving horizon, and left gorgeous mottled patches on the land far below. Glancing skyward again, she saw the stars begin to come out, and the little orange pegasus could only smile in joy as she soared effortlessly, feeling herself float weightlessly, as though the sky was an infinite ocean she was lazily drifting upon.
Then the panic started to set in. The drifting wasn't an illusion. She was actually losing control and quickly reached out with her magic to grasp the air beyond her bubble to change course, but found almost nothing to manipulate. The air had been thinning exponentially as she gained altitude, and all the while her speed itself was increasing as well. Now it was too thin to get purchase on, and momentum alone was carrying her higher still. Forcing down her fear, Scootaloo thought quickly, replaying in her mind the last minute of sensations she'd ignored while enraptured by scenery. From that, she realized two things: first, that the small, cigar-shaped bubble of air she'd been holding around herself was now the only thing letting her still breathe; second, that at the angle and speed she was going, gravity should still win and pull her back down into thicker air before long. As such, all she needed to do was wait calmly and try not to breathe too much. To that end, she pulled the remaining air into a sphere, and allowed herself to relax her wings and legs into a more natural posture. Panic continued to knock at the back of her mind, but Scootaloo forced herself to breathe calmly and focus on the view.
As Scootaloo drifted along the edge of space, her body slowly spun to face what had previously been behind her as she flew. There, shining in glory, brilliance, and clarity like she'd never seen, was the moon. The filly smiled, reminded of the wonderful princess who'd helped her through her worst nightmares, and was, of course, watching over her still. How could she panic when she could see both sun and moon shining their light upon her here? There was no place for it amongst this beauty. She was seeing Equestria as it had perhaps never been glimpsed before, and from way up here as she kissed the heavens, it was even more beautiful than she'd ever imagined. Far below, she thought she could even see the faintest hint of a rainbow, headed directly toward a mountain that could only be that of Canterlot. Oh no, Scootaloo thought. The race!
Rainbow Dash was soaring over the plains, faster than she'd ever gone before. She still had no idea where her opponent was, but even if she'd already completed the course, Dash still planned to set a personal best on this run. She could see the mountain looming in front of her, the castle and associated city hanging impossibly cantilevered off to one side. Her goal was the ice-covered peak though, and she was leading a rainbow-colored trail directly for it. Her rapid approach this close to the capital might give the guards a bit of a fright, but... well, she was best friends with one princess, had saved another from a thousand year nightmare, and was pretty sure she could manage to at least apologize profusely to a third if needed. Restricted airspace my hoof, she thought, speeding on toward her target.
High above, Scootaloo felt gravity returning. Well, not gravity—she knew that never left—but acceleration. Her bubble of breathable air was now hitting enough atmosphere to start slowing her down. More importantly, it was enough to grip and manipulate with her pegasus magic. Doing so, she righted herself, and transitioned the airflow to form another supersonic bubble around her, before aiming directly for the peak above Canterlot and diving. As the air pressure rapidly spiked, she found she could no longer maintain any forward acceleration. The force required to overcome the resistance was simply beyond her at that point. Instead, the rapidly flowing air was starting to heat up significantly as her little bubble forced its way through. She'd read about this effect some, and had come up with a few ideas on how to put it to effective use in flight. She'd not at all been expecting to need it today however. But then again, she hadn't been expecting to drift weightlessly over the curve of the planet either.
Rainbow Dash looked ahead, and saw she was getting close to the finish. The peak was now definitely above her, not just distant and abstract. She pulled up, and started to gain altitude, aiming for the minimal slope that would let her arrive and land on the peak in the least time. High above the peak, she saw something bright in the sky. For a second, it looked like a shooting star, even though it was only mid-afternoon. Then it started to get brighter.
Scootaloo was in it now. The air compressing in front of her was actually burning as far as she could tell. She'd have to ask Twilight about that later, but the evidence was clear. It was glowing bright red and yellow, obscuring her vision. She was very glad that her magic let her keep the high pressure zones far enough from her body that she only felt like she was in an oven, rather than a volcano. It was still very, very hot though, and she knew she couldn't survive that much longer. Recalling what she could about the less make-me-go-faster parts of physics, she tried to think of a solution. If she'd been a unicorn, a frost spell or some such would've come in useful, but all she could manipulate was air and water, and there wasn't nearly enough moisture to quench that kind of heat. No, the only option was to spread it out. To that end, she flared the front end of her encasing bubble, making a large, blunt teardrop shape out of it. The resulting increase in drag made the fire glow brighter, but over a much larger area, reducing the amount of heat that was directly broiling her own face and hooves. Following up on that, she cycled trailing air in and out of the bubble zone to vent heat as fast as she could without wrecking the enclosure entirely. The rapid deceleration threatened to pull her wolf teeth right out of her jaw, but she put all her effort into maintaining her magic and held on.
The glimmering ember Dash had seen falling suddenly erupted into a massive fireball. She'd heard of meteors before, and Twilight had explained that shooting stars were basically the same thing, just that ponies tended to say "meteor" when they meant one that was really big and bright. This was huge though, and nearly as bright as the sun. It also appeared to be heading directly for the peak of the mountain. That couldn't be a coincidence, Dash realized.
The flaring had worked. Scootaloo found she'd quickly bled off most of her speed without flash frying herself. She was still going several times faster than supersonic, but it was back into a range where the air wasn't tearing itself apart around her, and probably safe if she switched back to the cigar profile. She did, and was relieved to finally be back into something resembling normal flight. Looking around, she saw she'd actually been several miles off course, and was now approaching the peak on a path that would directly overfly Canterlot. Well, that was okay, she could slow down and circle. Then she saw a rainbow streak approaching the peak from some distance off to her right. Rainbow Dash! The other pegasus had maintained low-altitude, supersonic flight this whole time. The effort to do that in such high density air must've been incredible! More importantly, she realized, the race was still on!
Thankfully, Dash's "try harder" approach meant a lot of her magic output was unfocused and raw, leaving a signature rainbow trail behind her as it dispersed into the air. That trail was easy to follow at a distance, and Scootaloo used it to determine how long it would take her rival to reach the peak. Not long, was the answer. Maybe two minutes at most. Scootaloo knew she was still going several times faster though, even if she was further away. What that meant was that she had to keep that speed as long as she could, and dump it rapidly so she could land first. She could just flare her aeroshell again, which, by her estimate, would put her there at least thirty seconds before Dash arrived. She realized that plan lacked something though. Yes, she thought, it lacked showmareship. It lacked color. It lacked style. But what it really lacked was awesomeness. Then an idea came to her. Oh yes, she thought, a wild grin spreading across her muzzle. This will be at leasttwenty percent cooler!
Rainbow Dash raced on. The peak was in sight, only a minute away or less. The bright meteor she'd seen had faded, but she was certain it could only be Scootaloo. She had no idea how, of course, but Twilight had once mentioned something she called "narrative coincidence" to explain those things you just knew had to be true, even when you had no reason or logic to explain it. This was definitely one of those. As she drew closer to the peak, she could tell that it was empty. Fresh, white snow was all that was visible at the top, no sign anywhere of Scootaloo, meaning the filly had to still be racing too. Then a flash to her left caught Rainbow's attention.
Scootaloo waited until a full second after what she'd previously determined was the last possible second to start, then started. The aeroshell flared in front of her for a brief second, then collapsed back to a point. Then again. And again. Scootaloo was basically pulsing the airflow in front of her, alternating rapidly between the sleek supersonic shape, and the wide, aerobraking shield. Each time she did so, she released a small, calculated bit of raw magic into the resulting shockwave vortices. The resulting deceleration wasn't quite as fast as if she'd just flared and held it, but combined with the magic bursts, it was much more beautiful.
Dash looked in the direction of the flash and saw an expanding shockwave torus, much like her own rainboom. A fractional second afterwards, another one appeared, and then another. The result was an amazing conic trail of prismatic tori, the focus of which was headed directly at Canterlot peak.
It was working, Scootaloo thought, slightly surprised herself. She saw Dash approaching, but knew she'd get there first, if only by seconds. More importantly though, she'd done something awesome on the way, even if it had cost her a slight bit of time. The pulsing flares had slowed her back into the sub-sonic range and now all she had to do was set down and claim victory. As the peak approached, she prepared to land. Most pegasi usually slowed to a hover, then set down, but Scootaloo wasn't sure she had the time to spare at this point. Instead, she brought her legs down beneath her, ready to land at a gallop.
Looking ahead, Rainbow could see Scootaloo clearly now. The filly had indeed been the fireball and the source of the odd rainboom trail. Dash saw now there was no way she could win at this point. The filly was coming in fast for the peak, and Dash wondered how she planned to slow in time to land. With all the other tricks she'd pulled today though, Dash didn't doubt for a second that Scootaloo had at least one more ready to go. At this point she was just curious to see what it was.
Scootaloo did not actually have a trick prepared for landing however. Rather, she'd simply never spent much time around deep snow, and thus had no idea that a pony should treat it differently than solid ground. The results, at least in the opinion of Rainbow Dash, were apparently hilarious.
"Oh wow, Scoots!" Dash said, laughing heartily as she touched down a few feet away from the half buried and upside-down filly. "That... that was classic!"
Trying to right herself in the deep snow, Scootaloo couldn't find the breath to reply.
"Here," Dash said, reaching down into the snowy quagmire and grabbing a flailing orange hoof. "Lemme help."
"Gah!" Scootaloo shrieked, snorting snow and ice out of her nose as Rainbow dangled her by a rear leg. "What happened?"
"That," Dash said, as she righted the filly and placed her gently on a more solid patch of glacier. "Is what I'd like to know."
"As would I," said a third voice.
Rainbow Dash and Scootaloo both turned quickly to find Princess Celestia standing on the snow behind them.
Turning toward the younger pegasus, the princess said "Twilight told me the power she sensed in you and your friends, but that was still quite an impressive display you put on there, my little pony."
Having no idea how to respond, Scootaloo took a guess. "Thanks?"
Celestia laughed gently. "Would you believe the visiting Caribou ambassador is now nearly convinced that Ragnarok is upon him?"
"Rag-no-what?" Dash asked.
"The Caribou believe Ragnarok is the final battle that will bring about the end of the world. There's a giant wolf, a big tree, lots of fighting. It's really quite colorful."
"What's that have to do with us?"
"We were in negotiations in the castle when a loud boom was heard. Looking out the window, we saw a fireball streaking across the sky. I offered to take him outside so we could observe. After teleporting us both to the roof, I saw the fireball had faded, but a moment later, a series of rainbow waves trailed from the same object, accompanied by louder and louder shocks. The ambassador panicked, crying out that it was the Bifrost being shattered." Celestia raised a hoof to forestall the obvious question. "The Bifrost is a rainbow bridge between the gods and mortals in Caribou belief. Its destruction would be a sign of the apocalypse. And I must say, a series a rainbow colored explosions emanating from the sky really did lend a sense of plausibility to the ambassador's ravings. The fact that he was curled up muttering them from a corner was less convincing, however."
"I'm sorry," Scootaloo said. "I didn't mean to scare anypony."
"Not to worry, my little pony. I'm sure the ambassador will recover his wits eventually. I would, however, like to know exactly what you did."
"Wait," the filly said. "How do you know it was me and not Rainbow Dash?"
Celestia smiled, then Scootaloo heard yet another voice behind her. "Because I saw you."
Turning again, Scootaloo saw Princess Luna stepping carefully through the snow towards them.
"I was sleeping, but even in that state I'm still connected to my charges in the sky. I felt your presence as you briefly stepped into my realm."
"You mean, when I was up there, with the moon and stuff?"
Luna laughed gently. "Yes, my little pony. When you kissed the heavens I saw you and felt you. I have not experienced such a thing in a very, very long time."
"Okay," Rainbow said. "Now I'm confused. What are you all talking about?"
"Oh Dash, it was awesome!" Scootaloo said, turning to address her big sister. "I was up above everything! Higher than the mountains, the clouds, the air... everything."
"You can't fly above the air!"
Scootaloo just smiled, looking to Luna for confirmation.
"No way!" Dash said, seeing the princess nod. "I mean, I know you're good, kiddo, but how's that even possible?"
Luna and Celestia both could only shrug as Scootaloo launched into a lengthy and excited retelling of her experience. She explained everything she'd discovered about high speed flight, how she'd managed to get to the edge of space nearly by accident, and finished by explaining how she'd decided at the last moment to show off a bit "Rainbow Dash style" with some percussive aerobraking.
When the explanation was complete, Rainbow ran a forehoof down her face and then started laughing. "Okay, so let me get this straight," she said, after she'd caught her breath again. "Not only did you beat me in the race, but you took a detour—above the sky and even the air itself—along the way?"
"Umm," Scootaloo said, smiling a bit shyly. "Yeah, pretty much."
"And then came back down, using a blazing fireball to decelerate?"
"So you slowed down and then you made like a hundred rainbooms in a row?"
Scootaloo's face grew a smirk as she nodded again.
"And you know that no pony would ever believe you, except that you somehow have two immortal princesses and the former fastest flier in Equestria as witnesses?"
"That's not all she has," Princess Celestia said, gesturing toward the filly's hindquarters with a forehoof.
Dash hadn't even noticed, nor, apparently, had the filly herself. But there it was, gracing her side. Scootaloo had finally found her cutie mark.
"What? Really?" The filly exclaimed, turning eagerly in circles, trying to get a better look at her own hindquarters. "What is it?"
Luna placed a steadying hoof on the filly's back, preventing further circling while they all examined the newly manifested mark.
To Dash, it looked like a bow and arrow, pointing upward and to the right, with two small stars above it.. The bow was oddly shaped though, and looked more like a crescent moon, yet with blue and white mottling. The arrow fletching was a pair of chevrons in Scootaloo's orange and purple colors. The head of the arrow was a single, longer, and narrower triangular shape, with some small pointed marking in the middle. It looked cool, but Dash didn't know how it really fit with Scootaloo's talent. "A bow and arrow?" she said, after pondering it for a moment.
Looking at it, Scootaloo herself had a much better idea of what it represented. "No... it's more than that!" she said. "That curve is kinda what the ground looks like from above the sky. I think if I went even higher, like all the way to the moon or something, then it'd look exactly like that."
"Yes, little one," Luna said. "That is exactly how it appears when one is watching from the moon."
Scootaloo smiled, glad to have her guess confirmed before she continued. "The stars, of course, are always out up there. And the arrow. The angles at the back aren't just feathers... They actually match the propagation patterns of the shockwaves you'd get at high subsonic speeds for a normal pegasus in flight. The first one is off the tip of your hooves out in front of you, and the later one is mainly from your wings. The shaft of the arrow, I think that's speed and altitude increasing like a graph. And the arrow head! See that pointed hoofball shape in the middle? That's what I was doing today. That's the aeroshell shape I calculated to minimize drag at really high speeds. The larger delta around it is the single shockwave cone that it generates, much narrower than the lower speed ones. And of course the colors are the pegasus magic itself I'm using to reshape the airflows in the first place."
"So," Dash said. "You got a cutie mark for going really fast and really high?"
"I believe it is more than that," said the voice of Princess Celestia. "I don't believe she got her mark merely for setting new speed and altitude records, but rather, for being fully aware of all physical and thaumaturgical principles at play as she did so."
"Yeah," Scootaloo chimed in, grinning at the compliment. "What she said!"
"Congratulations, my little pony," Celestia said, smiling down at the filly. "What you've learned and done is extremely impressive. However, if you could avoid any more 'percussive aerobraking' directly over the capital, I—as well as the Caribou ambassador, castle guards, and the city population in general—would greatly appreciate it."
"Yes, Ma'am," Scootaloo said, looking down at her hooves.
"No harm done, little one, but I should get back to the ambassador and let him know the apocalypse has been postponed a while longer."
"I should return to get what sleep I can as well," Luna said. "Congratulations again, Scootaloo. I look forward to seeing you again in the future."
"You mean, up there?" Scootaloo said, gesturing with her nose to the sky.
Luna chuckled. "Yes, 'up there', Scootaloo."
"Thank you, Princess!" the filly said. With that, both princesses turned and flew off toward the castle.
"So," Scootaloo said, turning to Dash with a grin a moment later. "Race you home?"
Bonus points to everyone that had "Highway to the Danger Zone" in their head while reading this. I'll also accept "I'll Fly Higher" or "First Flight."
Oh, and as always, if this story makes you smile, then you could just click all those like/fave/follow buttons us authors always beg you to push. Or, you could do what Pinkie would do, and share the joy with all your friends!